The STEM field is often criticized for its lack of diversity. In fact, only 8 percent of STEM senior faculty positions at American four-year universities and colleges include underrepresented minority professors (i.e., African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders).

To address this issue, UNC Charlotte is among three universities within North Carolina that have been awarded a collaborative research grant by the National Science Foundation’s Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program titled: “AGEP North Carolina Alliance: An Institutional Transformation Model to Increase Minority STEM Doctoral Student and Faculty Success.” The other two universities collaborating with UNC Charlotte are North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and North Carolina State University.

The grant’s aim is to develop and implement a model “for creating institutional, department-level and faculty change to promote historically underrepresented minority U.S. citizens who are completing their STEM doctoral degrees and progressing into faculty positions.” The three institutions were awarded $2.2 million collectively and UNC Charlotte was awarded $663,163.

The two principal investigators from UNC Charlotte are Yvette Huet, a professor of kinesiology and director of the Advance Faculty Affairs and Diversity Office, and Lisa Merriweather, a UNC Charlotte associate professor of adult education.

According to Huet, faculty members in STEM graduate programs will to apply to be fellows in the program. They will learn about cross-cultural mentoring and the experiences of underrepresented minority students. They will examine their department’s policies and programs to understand how these may impact the experience of underrepresented minorities students in their doctoral programs.

The AGEP North Carolina Alliance aims to advance and disseminate knowledge about ways to create and improve the pathways to the success of underrepresented minority graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty within STEM-related fields. 

The AGEP North Carolina Alliance consists of senior leadership, like department heads and professors, as well as a student leadership council. The doctoral students named to the council are Ana Orejuela, studying health psychology, and Ephraim Moges, studying electrical engineering. The students hope to provide more clarity on the needs of graduate students.

Another goal of the project is to recruit and promote minority faculty members to serve the institution in an academic setting but to also serve as a role model for minority students.

Through the grant, universities hope to create institutional changes to improve the climate and policies that affect the graduate students and faculty. They will also be evaluating the barriers within STEM faculty and mentor training that underrepresented graduate students face.

Huet also stated that the information and research conducted at UNC Charlotte will be distributed at meetings with other institutions as well as be published in journals so it can be more widely available.

Huet and Merriweather hope that by helping mentors understand how to teach underrepresented minority students and by changing policies and procedures in the University’s programs, students will have a better experience, persist in their programs, graduate with their PhDs and stay in academia to become faculty.